Life, for fawns, is constant risk
Tuesday, one was exploring the backyard, checking out the cast-iron stove that now functions as a bird feeder. It then took advantage of the open lawn to do a little running and jumping before strolling away, likely to get a little nap in after all that excitement.
The fawn was alone, seemed well-grown and just reaching the age at which it can venture out.
Thursday, as I was heading to work, I pulled over on M-69 after noticing large birds in the middle of a tilled field on the Anderson farm, just east of the Dickinson County Road Commission station.
I thought they likely were turkeys, but the shape was wrong. My camera lens cleared it up quickly — it was two bald eagles, an adult and immature, feeding on something.
When another mature bald eagle swooped in and drove the other eagles off the carcass, it became clear it was the spotted remains of a fawn.
Had the eagles killed it? Maybe. While rare, bald eagles have been documented preying on fawns.
There is a well-circulated video, taken by Julie Smith, of a bald eagle pouncing on and drowning a fawn swimming in Lake Noquebay near Crivitz, Wis., on June 30, 2017. In June 2009, a research team working in Menominee County radio-collared a fawn, estimated to be only days old, that a few hours later ended up in a bald eagle nest. They reasoned it was highly unlikely the fawn was killed by something else in that short period of time.
More recently, a bald eagle was photographed at Riverside Golf Course in Menominee on June 3, 2020, struggling to drag part of a fawn carcass across a fairway. But those who saw it could not say if the eagle had been predator or scavenger.
The fawn carcass Thursday was pretty much down to bones, hide and head, so it’s definitely possible the eagles simply took off with the remnants of another creature’s kill. Given the proximity to M-69, it might even have been roadkill — though the eagles and vultures are not shy about consuming dead deer in the ditches and roadsides, so why would this one be dragged into the middle of a dirt field, with no cover?
I wondered if the fawn had been sprinting across the field only to be attacked from above. Given the yielding, tilled soil and the lack of cover, a fawn might find it difficult to elude a pursuit from the air, especially if more than one eagle was involved — I once watched a pair at Six Mile Lake drop down to make a grab at an unsuspecting otter, which just barely managed to twist free and dive off the ice to safety.
But bald eagles also are more than willing to scavenge, so they — along with the turkey vultures that showed up — could simply have benefitted from whatever befell the fawn.
The episode, for me, also drove home how precarious life can be for a prey species such as deer, which lives at almost constant risk, especially when young. In the Upper Peninsula, coyotes, black bears, bobcats and wolves — in that order, according to a study published in June 2021 by Kristie Sitar and Brian Roell of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources — are considered the main predators of fawns, though the study noted that “other non-predatory types of mortality, including malnutrition, disease, abandonment, vehicle-collisions, etc., have a greater impact (on deer numbers) than predation from any specific predator in the Upper Peninsula.”
Very young fawns also may be taken by red fox, gray fox and, as noted, bald eagles. The first week is the most vulnerable; if it can manage to survive the first five days it can “outrun most men,” deer expert Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III wrote for Whitetail Times. But that won’t be enough to escape many predators, which is why fawns will stay bedded down and hidden until about three weeks old, when they finally begin following their mother.
“Thereafter they are her constant companion, although they will spend a great deal of time running and dashing about with their peer group after she returns to her maternal herd,” Rue wrote. “All the vigorous playing is the training and body building needed for their survival.”
So seeing the one fawn bouncing around the backyard Tuesday, putting its youthful energy on full display, gives me hope that perhaps this one has made it to the point it can withstand the dangers out there.
Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or email@example.com.